The African Union (AU) should immediately publish the report of the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan, said Amnesty International, Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, FIDH (the International Federation for Human Rights), and the South Sudan Law Society.
Their joint call comes ahead of the AU summit, amid concern that the ongoing delay in the publication of the report is impacting on the urgent need for accountability for crimes committed in South Sudan.
“Three months after the Commission of Inquiry submitted its report to the AU, its findings and recommendations are yet to see the light of day,” said Edmund Yakani, director of Community Empowerment for Progress Organization. “In the meantime the conflict in South Sudan is continuing unabated with dire impacts on the civilian population.”
Over the past year, all parties to the conflict have committed crimes under international law that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, including attacks on civilians often based on ethnicity or perceived political allegiance, sexual violence, and wide-spread destruction and looting of civilian property.
The Commission of Inquiry ended investigations in August and submitted its final report to the Chairperson of the AU Commission in October 2014. Since then it has not been made public.
The AU Peace and Security Council will consider the situation in South Sudan and the report of the Commission of Inquiry on 29 January.
The organizations also called on the AU to insist that there be accountability for violations of human rights and humanitarian law that have taken place in South Sudan. Publishing the report, along with a regional commitment to ensure accountability, could play an important role in deterring further crimes as well as ending the conflict.
“There must be an end to impunity for crimes under international law and human rights abuses in South Sudan,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director, Research and Advocacy. “Not only is justice a right of victims, accountability could serve as a powerful deterrent to those who think they can kill, rape and pillage with no consequence.”
As well as truth and reparations mechanisms, the organizations believe that the AU should consider the establishment of a hybrid court that would provide for South Sudanese and specially trained foreign investigators and judges to continue the investigations conducted by the Commission of Inquiry and to try those suspected of responsibility for crimes under international law.
“Given the pervasive weaknesses in the administration of justice in South Sudan, credible and independent investigations and prosecutions will require robust international involvement,” said Drissa Traoré, Vice-President of FIDH. “Efforts should simultaneously be made to strengthen South Sudan’s criminal justice system.”
The five member Commission of Inquiry, chaired by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, was established by the AU in March 2014 to investigate human rights violations and abuses committed by parties to the South Sudan conflict and make recommendations on accountability, reconciliation and healing among South Sudanese communities.
In South Sudan, there has been no accountability for conflict related crimes. The Government of South Sudan has boasted the establishment of an eight-member Presidential investigation committee set up to assess human rights abuses by government and opposition forces as demonstrative of progress towards accountability.
This committee submitted its report to the President during the first week of December 2014 but it has not been made public, and has not as yet triggered any criminal investigations or prosecutions. This decision to make the report public lies solely with President Salva Kiir.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has published multiple reports detailing evidence of human rights and humanitarian law violations and abuses committed by parties to the conflict. UNMISS has recommended that national processes be complemented by international assistance through the establishment of a special or hybrid court system with international involvement and that consideration be given to international assistance to pursue serious and independent investigations.
The African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child conducted a mission to South Sudan in August 2014 during which it received evidence of recruitment of children into armed forces, abductions of children, rape of girls and boys, and killings of children.
In a September 2014 address to the UN Human Rights Council, the Commission of Inquiry’s Chairperson, Olusegun Obasanjo, said “violations [of human rights] are across the board, no South Sudanese leader can claim innocence…what we do hear from every group we talk to is that there must be accountability, that no lasting reconciliation can be done until justice appears to be done.”